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Police reveal extortion plot tied to U of U student’s death

Posted at 5:24 PM, Oct 25, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY —  University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy revealed new information Thursday about the death of 21-year-old student-athlete Lauren McCluskey, including details of a sexual extortion/blackmail plot against her.

According to Chief Brophy, McCluskey reported that someone had threatened to post compromising photos of her and Rowland online unless she met a monetary demand. McCluskey told police she transferred $1,000 to an account in hopes of keeping the photos private and protecting her reputation.

McCluskey was found shot to death Monday night in the back of a car parked near her dormitory. Police identified 37-year-old Melvin Shawn Rowland as the man responsible for killing McCluskey. Rowland died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound as police pursued him into a church in downtown Salt Lake City early Tuesday morning.

The University of Utah released the following timeline of events. Monday.

The following timeline is based on contacts University Police had with Lauren McCluskey as well as information gathered since Monday:

• Sept. 2: Lauren met Melvin Shawn Rowland at a local bar where he was working as a bouncer and began a relationship with him. He visited her often at her residence hall and built friendships with other students in the building.

• Oct. 9: Lauren learned Rowland’s real identity—including his actual age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender. At that point she decided to end the relationship. She invited Rowland to her dorm room and confronted him with the information. He admitted his sex offender status but denied the age difference. Lauren told him she was ending the relationship. He spent the night in her room and borrowed her car the following day to run errands.

• Oct. 10: Campus dispatch was contacted by Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, who requested a campus security escort to help her daughter retrieve her vehicle from her ex-boyfriend.

University Police contacted Lauren and she initially declined the assistance, stating that Rowland was going to drop the vehicle at her apartment and she felt comfortable having him do that.

A dispatcher told Lauren she would have security officers near the building just in case and asked her to call back if the situation changed.

• Oct. 10, 5 p.m.: Lauren called back and stated her car had been dropped off at the parking lot at Rice-Eccles Stadium and that she needed a ride to pick it up. A security escort responded and gave Lauren a ride to pick up her car.

• Oct. 12: Lauren contacted University Police to report having received suspicious messages that she believed were from friends of her ex-boyfriend. The texts stated that Rowland was dead, and it was Lauren’s fault. She was able to determine by looking at social media that was untrue.

The reporting officer asked Lauren if she felt in danger or threatened by the texts. She stated she did not, but that she felt his friends were trying to lure her somewhere.

The officer told her to not go anywhere that made her uncomfortable and to call back if she received additional messages or contact.

• Oct. 13, 9:22 a.m.: Lauren again contacted University Police to report receiving additional messages she believed were from her ex-boyfriend and/or her ex-boyfriend’s friends. The messages demanded money in exchange for not posting compromising photos of Lauren and Rowland on the internet. Lauren stated she sent $1000 to an account as demanded in hopes of keeping the photos private.

A report was taken, a criminal history was pulled and the case was assigned to a detective for follow up on possible sexual extortion charges.

• Oct. 19: The formal investigation of the extortion charges began. A detective contacted Lauren to gather additional information about the extortion, to identify all suspects possibly involved and to seek an arrest warrant for Rowland and/or his acquaintances responsible for the alleged crime.

• Oct.19-22: Security video showed Rowland at various locations on campus.

• Oct. 22, 10:39 a.m.: Lauren emailed police to report having received an additional text from a spoofed number claiming to be Deputy Chief Rick McLenon requesting she come to the police station. University Police now believe the text came from Rowland with the intent of getting Lauren to leave her dorm room.

• Oct. 22, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.: Rowland spent the afternoon waiting for Lauren with some of her friends in the residence hall.

• Oct. 22, 8:20 p.m.: Rowland confronted Lauren, who was on the phone with her mother, in a parking lot outside her residence hall. In the altercation, she dropped her cell phone and belongings. He dragged Lauren to a different spot in the parking lot where he forced her into the back seat of a car he had driven to campus. He shot her in the car multiple times.

• Oct. 22, 8:23 p.m.: Dispatch received a call from Matt McCluskey, Lauren’s father, stating he believed his daughter was in trouble, relayed what her mother had heard on the phone, and requested that officers respond.

• Oct 22, 8:32 p.m.: Police responded to the parking lot, located Lauren’s belongings and began searching her dorm, surrounding area and the parking lot. Additional resources were mobilized.

• Oct. 22, 8:38 p.m.: Rowland was picked up by an acquaintance and leaves campus.

• Oct. 22, 9:55 p.m.: During a search of the parking lot, police discovered Lauren’s body in the backseat of a vehicle.

• Oct. 22, 9:56 p.m.: A secure-in-place alert was sent campus wide that stated there had been a shooting on campus.

• Oct. 22, 10:09 p.m.: Alert sent with suspect information. Updates were sent approximately every 30 minutes reiterating the secure in place order.

• Oct. 22, 11:46 p.m.: Alert sent lifting secure-in-place order after University Police determined suspect had left campus.

• Oct. 23, 12:01 a.m.: Alert sent identifying shooting suspect as Melvin Rowland.

• Oct. 23 12:46 a.m.: Salt Lake Police located Rowland and engaged in a foot pursuit. He entered Trinity A.M.E. Church, 239 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and as police entered the church he shot himself.

• Oct. 23, 1:47 a.m.: Alert sent saying Rowland had been located and is no longer a threat.

Additional Information:

Q. Where did Rowland get the gun used in the attack?

A. University Police have learned Rowland borrowed the gun from an acquaintance under false pretenses. The acquaintance is fully cooperating with law enforcement. According to the acquaintance, Rowland said he wanted to borrow the gun to teach his girlfriend how to shoot. It is not anticipated that any charges will be filed.

Q. Who picked up Rowland on Monday night after the shooting?

A. Rowland called a woman he had met on a dating site and asked her for a ride, saying he had just finished a workout at the U. She agreed and picked him up. They went to dinner at a local restaurant, drove by the state Capitol and then went to her home in downtown Salt Lake City where Rowland took a shower. She later dropped him off at a coffee shop downtown. Subsequently, she saw news reports about the shooting, recognized photos of Rowland and contacted police. The woman is fully cooperating with the investigation and it is not anticipated she will face charges.

Q. How did University Police identify Rowland as the suspect in the shooting and determine he had left campus afterward?

A. University security cameras recorded him in the parking lot outside the residence hall. Another video showed him getting into a vehicle that left campus. Police also had the information relayed by her parents.

Q. Why didn’t University Police contact Adult Probation & Parole on Oct. 13 after learning Rowland was a registered sex offender?

A. University Police were investigating what was understood at that time to be an extortion case and did not yet believe there was enough evidence to share with other law enforcement. The current investigative process is to gather evidence that supports the claim and then to make contact with a suspect. It’s during this phase that police would have reached out to AP&P.

Q. Why didn’t University police assist Lauren in getting a restraining order?

A. Rowland was threatening Lauren financially and reputationally, but there was no indication to University Police from Lauren that he was threatening her with physical harm.